Watch: "A growing entrepreneurial economy on Central Avenue" | 4:14
What's happening on Central Ave. is emblematic of what many traditionally underserved entrepreneurs need to support and grow businesses – support developed from within the community combined with a desire for business ownership.
Banda music travels down Central Avenue.
Spilling out of car windows, it speaks to the storefronts – the taquerias and panaderias. People step out of El Torito with their groceries for dinner, from the salon with their fresh cut, and the party store with balloons for a family party.
A majority of the businesses on the street are Hispanic-owned and bring a rich flavor, unique style, and the Hispanic culture to the East Wyandotte County area. What’s happening on Central Avenue. is emblematic of what many traditionally underserved entrepreneurs need to start and grow businesses – support developed from within the community combined with a desire for business ownership to sustain a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem that creates more inclusive opportunity.
"Driving down Central, it's seeing people's dreams come true," said Abi Rodriguez, co-owner of the Balloon Store. "I'm like, 'Wow, this is my Hispanic community.'"
Abi Rodriguez opened the Balloon Store with her parents three years ago. "We opened it on Central because we wanted to be part of the Hispanic community," she said.
Central Avenue is a commercial business street in Kansas City, Kansas, that runs from 18th Street down to Sixth Street, touching Interstate 70 flowing into Kansas City, Missouri. According to the U.S Census Bureau, there were 3,475 minority-owned firms in 2012 in Wyandotte County. Of those firms, about one third were Hispanic-owned.
Kansas City, both in Missouri and Kansas, have had a Hispanic population since the early 1900’s due to the demand of labor for railroads according to KCUR.
But around the 1970’s, a new surge of migration from the Hispanic community came. Hispanic families were attracted to Kansas and began migrating from Texas and California because of affordable housing options. During these decades, the Hispanic population in Kansas grew by 35%.
"New members of our community came and started moving in and operating with low investment and getting these new businesses going," said Edgar Galicia, executive director of the Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA).
Galicia said he believes the street has become a hub for Hispanic entrepreneurs because of the low cost and the willingness from the Hispanic community to risk investment in starting their businesses.
"See normally, the market calls for you to have good credit and use bank's money to invest into businesses, revamp these buildings, and have the best offering possible," he said. "No banks were offering any investment money or capital, funding capital, for these businesses to occupy these buildings. Mostly, these people came in and rent to buy."
Galicia said Hispanic entrepreneurs are often self-dependent and keep to themselves when operating their businesses.
"In many ways, the lack of understanding of the system, but the will of success has pushed the community to thrive on its own grounds," Galicia said. "Definitely ownership is a major thing that promotes the internal growth."
Instead of borrowing loans and using credit, Hispanic entrepreneurs often depend on their family savings to grow their business, Galicia explains.
"And today, most of these businesses are debt free, because they build everything on their own shoulders, their savings, their hard work," Galicia said. "They had to go and work two or three jobs at the same time as keeping their business open."
For Rodriguez and her family’s business, this rings true.
"A lot of people think that we have loans now and it's not. It's money that my parents saved up. Up to this day, we all have jobs," Rodriguez said. "When we get money we reinvest it. So we're always putting in money."
"That's how they became strong business owners," Galicia said. "And today... they're blooming. They're really reaping the benefits of their high-risk investment."
Galicia believes it's time to change the interpretation of what Central Avenue is – or isn’t. Recently, the avenue received media attention for gun violence at a local bar that left four killed and five injured. It was a tragedy that hit the community hard, but Galicia said it is a strong community, and it will continue to be strong.
"People that have moved into Kansas City, Kansas, from Latin countries come from harsh realities. When they have to leave the old country for better, this is moving forward – this is moving into a positive light. They are making money," he said. "Their spirit is strong."
The Central Avenue Betterment Association was established 43 years ago to focus on improving the quality of life of the community in the area around the street. CABA is divided into five focus areas: leadership, community pride, entrepreneurship, business excellence, and healthy living.
"The way we have decided to approach the increase of quality of living is by teaching people how to fish rather than give them fish," said Galicia.
Under entrepreneurship, CABA created La Placita, a bimonthly market hosted at Bethany Park where vendors can operate their businesses under the organization with permits and licenses provided to them.
"We let community members come and offer their products or services without the investment of having to rent a place, license themselves, get insurance, and all of that," he said. "That way they test the market with the products."
CABA was one of the organizations chosen nationwide to receive the Kauffman Foundation’s Inclusion Open grant for operational support of La Placita and technical assistance and coaching for the vendors. The Inclusion Open grant was given to organizations that promote inclusive entrepreneurship support in their communities.
As for the Hispanic businesses already established on the street, it’s now become an ecosystem of immigrant and native-born entrepreneurs who revitalized the street by bringing more traffic to the area.
"I personally know of the investment, know of the hard work and the spirits that keep them motivated to operate every day," he said.
And Central Avenue is continuing to grow day by day. New businesses are popping up while established businesses continue to stand.
"In the last 10 years, the new investors in the community and new businesses have been opening and the whole avenue has risen and have moved forward," Galicia said. "Today, we have very viable businesses in the avenue and a very important thing, the equity that these business owners hold from these businesses is fantastic."
But with the opportunities to economically grow in the area, holding on to the culture is important.
"My people are getting up there, they're grinding, they're pushing. That's what Central Avenue to me is, where all the Hispanics are there to show people that they can also do that," Rodriguez said.
Galicia said he believes entrepreneurship can bring the quality of life in the area to a higher degree.
"It involves creativity, it involves self-investment, it involves education, and I think we have all that and we can definitely utilize entrepreneurship to better our way and our situation," he said. "I think we have a good future. We just have to know how to make it ours."